Artiste and entertainer Ricardo “Daddy Chinee” Melville remembers splashing happily during school vacations in the clear, warm waters of Speyside in Tobago where his mother, Lucille, and her family were from. He also recalled the barbecues, baked fish and wild meat his paternal Chinese grandfather and uncles would serve up at their family cookout “wars”.
Hailing from a multicultural heritage that captures the very essence of T&T, it seemed only natural for him to sing his composition We are One which won him the 2023 Chutney Soca Monarch (CSM) crown on February 17.
Described by show promoter George Singh as the first non-Indo Trinidadian to cop the title, Melville penned the nation-building song together with musician Lewis “Tempo” Rowans after reflecting on the pandemic, the fragility of life and how blessed T&T was and landed the historic win.
Melville recently told Sunday Guardian that highlighting the topic of unity despite T&T’s diverse cultures in the Rishi Gayadeen-produced song in a post-pandemic time helped give him the edge over his fellow competitors.
“I wanted to concentrate on the positive things about the country. I always come original and create my own melody. I knew I had a very strong contender. The lyrical content was very strong for the competition,” he said.
The 49-year-old artiste who has gained the title of “The Xross Over King” for his versatility in singing across the genres of soca, chutney, chutney soca, parang soca and reggae over his 25-plus year career and who has come in third in the CSM for the last two years, pulled out all the stops on the night of the recently concluded finals.
After an introduction of Machel Montano’s Real Unity chorus by members of a marching band complete with tassa and steelpan, Melville emerged in a dapper red, white and silver ensemble amidst a full entourage of Indian (Kathak) and African dancers dressed in the national colours, aerial dancers, Moko Jumbies, fire breathers, flags and special effects.
Ricardo Melville, left, strikes a pose with Dil-E-Nadan when he was a member.
PHOTO COURTESY RICARDO MELVILLE
He gave a spirited performance in the competition which unfolded at Skinner Park, San Fernando, before an audience of about 6,000—according to the show promoter’s figures. He took home a grand prize of $400,000.
Tracing his journey, the Tobago-born Melville said his triumph this year had validated his years of “hard work” in the entertainment industry, as a band vocalist and solo performer. His love for singing apparent, he happily burst into snippets of various songs while recalling aspects of his entertainment career.
Brought to Trinidad while he was a baby, and bearing a resemblance to his paternal grandfather’s side, Melville was called “Chinee Boy” by his family. When he started to sing professionally, he retained part of the nickname, calling himself “Daddy Chinee”. He spent his early childhood in Oropouche and then Matura with his mother and older brother before going to live with his father in Tabaquite.
It was at the Tabaquite RC School and Tabaquite RC Church that he started singing around age 13, encouraged by his Uncle Affie (Alexander Luke).
Despite “trembling” and “being very scared” the first time he sang publicly, he continued to participate in church events and calypso competitions and soon gained the sobriquet “Young Gypsy” because of his great admiration for the calypso bard, especially during his Sinking Ship days.
But by the second year when Melville participated in the Tabaquite Community Calypso competition, he had to abruptly change the name because “somebody stole it,” he laughed.
He assumed the new sobriquet “Young Thunder”.
Melville made his first professional appearance at age 18 at a high school graduation. Observing his keen interest in singing, his now-deceased cousin Dawud Orr, who played with Andre Tanker and other bands, introduced him to popular soca band Kalyan.
There, he was trained as a band vocalist. Sound Revolution was the next band he sang with.
“One of the biggest times was when I left the country and spent eight months in Canada with Moses (leader) and the band. It’s now called Moses Revolution.
“We did Carnival in Winnipeg because Sound Revolution was a big band in Canada because of the Dollar Wine...yes with Colin Lucas, so I had big stages to sing on, represent with the band, and that was a big wow factor for me,” the crossover singer recalled.
After he returned from Canada, he linked up with chutney artiste Nermal “Massive” Gosine who introduced him to the chutney soca industry and chutney band Trishul led by Indar Kanhai.
He later joined chutney soca band Melobugz and continued doing shows with Massive, travelling extensively.
The Xross Over King moved to the T&TEC Gayatones currently known as “RG The Band”, first entering the Chutney Soca Monarch as a solo act while a member of the group. He made the finals with “Chutney Soca Time” written by Rikki Jai (Samraj Jaimungal).
“It was like wow, I can’t believe I reach to this stage! All of that gave me the strength to continue,” Melville said.
Becoming a regular at the CSM competition, he made the finals on several occasions. Through singing and writing, he has picked up aspects of the Hindi language used in chutney and chutney soca.
“What I don’t know I google and ask,” he laughed.
Melville spent about eight years as part of chutney-soca crossover big band Dil-E-Nadan, helping to write the English parts to songs like Indian Girls on the band’s FBI album. Leaving Dil-E-Nadan, he formed his own crossover band Hypnotic in late 2006, taking a back seat while guiding younger artistes to be lead vocalists for the next six years. Then, his band folded.
“It was tough; me being an artiste and pushing out a band. We had several hits like Ah Wonder Who and Samina that were well-played, but it wasn’t working out for me,” he said.
Melville also sang with legendary soca band Roy Cape All Stars along the way. He has travelled to North America, parts of Europe, and several countries in the Caribbean as a band vocalist and as a solo artiste.
The entertainer said he loves various types of music, but soca chutney and parang soca were special to him. The Parrandero and This is It singer has been involved in soca parang from about 2009, having lent background vocals to Scrunter’s Back Yard Jam in that year.
He rejoined the Rishi Gayadeen-led RG The Band as a frontline vocalist about four years ago and returned to the Chutney Monarch competition—after a hiatus—around the same time after urgings from the bandleader.
Expanding on his multicultural influences, Melville said his mother is of African heritage while his father, Frederick, is a mixture of Melville’s East Indian grandmother, Lynette Luke and Chinese grandfather, Alloy Luke.
Ricardo Melville, left, with his former band Hypnotic.
PHOTO COURTESY RICARDO MELVILLE
The pristine waters of the countryside beaches and the tasty country food are aspects of Tobago life he loves.
“When you go Tobago is all kind of ways they cook the fish. It would also be the provision, crab, dumplings, mackies from the river—what people would call big shrimp; crayfish.”
On his father’s side here in Trinidad, it was the large family gatherings for cooking competitions and the special Oriental spices his grandfather (now deceased) and uncles would use to prepare their baked fish and wild meat. The family’s involvement in parang also inspired him.
As to his participation in an arena rooted in the East Indian chutney tradition, Melville said he always felt welcome.
“I’ve been around East Indians so long that I think they accept me.
“I’ve done a lot in this industry and people always look forward to when Daddy Chinee coming to perform—weddings, shows, any event—people accept me and give me that love.
“The comments coming in so far are that I ‘deserve it’ (the CSM crown), ‘great song’, and that ‘I changed the industry on that night’ in terms of what I sang. It wasn’t about horning or disrespect to women.
“It was nation-building and I am proud of myself for bringing something different to represent all cultures and all races to the people,” he said.
Melville’s wife, Sangeeta Petite, echoed his sentiments saying his fanbase and the industry itself had always been welcoming.
The couple shares daughter Rainelle, 12, whom there are helping to prepare for her upcoming SEA examinations.
Melville also has another daughter Rhianna, 17, from his previous marriage, who lives abroad.
The artiste is expected to launch a Latin-soca fusion song entitled Mi Corazón with S2M Productions in the coming months.
He said he was grateful to the public for its support, his manager Tricia Ramdhanie and Sunset Party Promotions TT, Abbigail Christopher and the Premala New Generation Dance Academy, PDPI Ltd, and Junior Bisnath.
Meanwhile, he looks forward to the 103.1FM Chutney Soca Road March competition. The event was formerly based on a combination of a live performance score and an online people’s choice tally but will now be judged fully by a panel on March 10 at the Naparima Bowl since it had been postponed due to the passing of chutney and chutney soca singer Anil Bheem.